Archive for category Hackerspace

Why I am kind-of a Maker

Deb Chachra has a great article ‘Why I am not a Maker’ If you bother to read this site, I suggest you all go read it now, since this post is a continuation of that conversation. It’s a good and fast read, bit a bit scatter-shot. Done? Good!

My first take at adding to the discussion was mostly a list of sections of her article I disagreed with. But that was pretty crappy to read, and a crappy thing to do. Especially given how much of her general idea that I agree with, even if I disagree with the details.

My second take was to outline where I agree and/or disagree, or just don’t know where I stand yet. That was very long and tired and kind of hair-splitty for my taste. Really, just a bunch of overly complicated footnotes to the article.

This here is my third take at contributing to the discussion, and I’m going at it in a totally new (to me) way. I’m going to assume for the rest of this article that Deb is 100% correct, and is a perfect reliable witness. Take that, mix it with my own political/social point of view, and what conclusions would I then draw? I come up with 3 idea:

  1. Maker culture is deep into the late cycle of co-option by market system(s).
  2. Maker culture is American sub-culture, and by trying to be ‘apolitical’ is just generic./li>
  3. Maker culture is has become a self-aggrandizing big-tent Evangelical culture.

Co-Option: Put a ‘Maker’ on it !

The ‘Maker’ culture is being ‘green’ed. By ‘Greened’ I mean, it’s reach the point where it’s meaningless in it’s generality, and is just glued onto crap by people trying to sound like they have a clue. Glued into job posting, events. Stores cough Radio Shack cough using it to sell crap, it’s flavor of the month, like weird eggplants a few years ago, and the ‘Green’ label that is slapped on anything and everything. Thank you marketing and the desire for social/cultural capital for sucking the meaning out of a once useful term!

Politically: Generic American Flavorless.

Look, we live in a country with less female representation in congress (19%) than Saudia Arabia. We are the only ‘1st world industrialized’ country without paid paternal leave. For whatever reason, despite a pretty radical ‘left meets right, had some drinks, and fights, and then makes out behind the bar’ hacker community, ‘Maker’ community is politically and socially just a crappy rusted mirror of general American society. So like the US overall, it’s a great concept that got off to a good enough start that in success, it’s forgotten as it started core, and it’s weirdo’s and screw-ups that created it in the first place.


I love the section on the forced embrace of ‘I make BLAH’ nametags. It reminds me of the you-must-hug-us greeters at a lot of Evangelical churches growing up. It’s imagined as an attempted to be welcoming. It turns into a giant awkward turn-off, and in reality provides more comfort the hugger than the victim. Everyone must Code. Everyone must love Jesus. Democracy Will Work For You, Or We Shoot!

In reality, I don’t agree with a lot of what Deb said. I think a lot of her specifics are wrong, and that she mashes maker culture into startup culture. But for all the details I disagree on, don’t want to invalidate her overall point, or to undermine her experience, both of which I agree are spot-on. (And her awesome advice-to-younger-self is also spot on).

The Maker movement has shifted away from it’s scrappy rebellion stage, and large sections of it are building Start Destroyers, or just too busy buying TARDIS trinkets at Barnes and Noble to notice as the local mom&pop PC store is bulldozed over.

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There are no structureless groups

In the past, one of the orgs I founded was an attempt structurless-ness. In some ways it worked out fine, but in several ways, internally especially, it was always tripping over itself. I burnt out and left for related reasons, but something about the situation has always rubbed me the wrong way.

Why didn’t structureless work? Being a bit of an anarchist, I was pretty sure when I started it, that the do-ocracy system would be better than something with more command and control. It’ only a few years later when reading this article on structurelessness that I realized how non-sense the conceit was to begin with.

TL;DR: Every human group has a structure, it’s inevitable. Specialization, interests, skills, or just I-get-along-with-her-better builds a structure. You can’t have a structureless group.

Once you start there, it’s not far to think through to the conclusion that claims of structurelessness is just denial that there is one for whatever reason. I think most common is naivety or idealism of a group, but sometimes more sinister behavior is at play. Anyone organizing unconferences, or open source development projects should read the post and probably dig into the origional article for a more detailed reading. For the skimmers, I leave you with the following:

A ‘laissez-faire’ group is about as realistic as a ‘laissez-faire’ society; the idea becomes a smokescreen for the strong or the lucky to establish unquestioned hegemony over others. This hegemony can easily be established because the idea of ‘structurelessness’ does not prevent the formation of informal structures, but only formal ones.”

C-Base, CCamp11, and more

It’s been a few days since CCCamp 2011 ended, and I’ve been in Berlin and away from my computer, relaxing and thinking. Being in a city that 50 years ago was divided (hello 50th anniversary of the Berlin Wall) and 20 years ago reunited is a great atmosphere to think about politics, events, and beyond. I was having a few Beers at C-Base last night and talking with some folks about telecomix, and it was a great recharge of my interest in hackerspaces. I burnt out on the general American Hackerspace movement this past winter for a variety of reasons, and CCCamp has reminded me what those reasons are, and what I can do about them.

In my experience it comes down to this: Much of the American Hackerspace movement, in an attempt to be apolitical, has given up any and all vision. They have put down their opinions on what is right or wrong to build, and have instead circumscribed their vision to be ‘teach people to solder’ and/or ‘have some open houses’. Instead of debating what is the best thing to do about an increasingly technical, trackable, and online world, the American Hackerspace community has decided not even debate the issue, but instead stick to safe things we all agree on. LED’s are cool, 3d printers are nifty, and videogames are fun.

Sure, I think that all of that is OK and it’s a good place to start. But it’s only a place to start. If the American hackerspace community only goes that far, then it is already irrelevant. Surprisingly it’s a quote in Forbes that best sums up my thoughts: If “Internet” is a new country, then who will protect freedom in its public places?

That needs to be us. The technically skilled, the intelligent, and the forward thinking individuals. Left to the government alone, weird and dangerous policies will emerge. Left to the markets along, short-sighted money-grubbing solutions are what will emerge. The hacker community in the Americans needs to learn from our European counterparts. We need to lose our fear of conflict, lose our abhorrence of politics, and step in and work on makings things right. Otherwise, we risk living in a world where horrible ideas succeed, and good ideas falter. For stupid ideas to succeed, all it takes is for knowledgeable people to do nothing. (apologies to Edmund Burke).

Bi-Lingual tech classes at The Hacktory

As a radical constructionist, I believe very strongly that broader access to the tools of creation is essential. So it’s really awesome to see my great friend (and partner in housing) Maggie teaming up with The Hacktory to do a bl-lingual transmitter building class. A transmitter (A FM Radio transmitter) is a pretty awesome mini-project, and is a great hands-on and immediately useful analog electronics projects I’ve seen.

If you want to hear a bit more, Tek-Lado has a video interview with the folks running the class.

And as long as I’m here. Lets get this language thing out of the way first: It’s the 21st centuary. We live on a tiny planet in the vast nothing-ness of space. Members of *our own species* are dying of hunger and curable (or cured) diseases daily. If you’re concerned or outraged that someone hasn’t had the luck or privileged to learn English. I have only one thing to say to you. Shut-up, put your butt where your mouth is, and go volunteer to teach English. People speaking Spanish in the US, if it were to be any kind of a problem, would be the absolute least of the problems our planet, our continent, our species, our cities, or our countries is facing.

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Diversity and Anti-Harassment

I’m working on a couple of conferences and events this summer, and along the way it was suggested that ‘Diversity Statement’ and ‘Anti-Harassment’ policies can’t hurt, and in some cases they help. I created the two boilerplate’s below, and would like feedback from folks on them. I’d like to use them for some events if there are not too many flaws in it.

Draft Diversity Statement:

You who want to make things, We welcome you. All and any of you*. We support maximum freedom of creative expression, and only restrict that when we must for the safety and sanity of other folks. We think creativity is one of the greatest accomplishments of the human mind, and we want to enable that creativity in everyone from pro to amateur. We think neurodiversity is a feature, not a bug. We believe in being inclusive, welcoming, and supportive of anyone who comes to us with good faith and the desire to build a community. We think accessibility for people with disabilities is a priority, not an afterthought.

*By that we mean any ability level, gender identity or expression, race, ethnicity, size, nationality, sexual orientation, neurotype, religion, elder status, family structure, culture, subculture, and political opinion.

(CC BY-SA 3.0) inspired by

Draft Ant-Harassment Statement:

ORGANIZATION is dedicated to providing a harassment-free conference experience for everyone regardless of gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, including users of Windows and/or emacs.
We do not tolerate harassment of conference participants in any form. Participants violating these rules may be sanctioned or expelled from the area if necessary. If you are being harassed, or have any other concerns, please contact a member of conference staff immediately. We are here to help make a space where everyone can create without hassle.

(CC BY-SA 3.0) – inspired by geekfeminism

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Hackerspace Self-Censorship

I was recently disappointed Hive76 decided to revoke an adult themed event, when some members got squeamish. The event was checked through by the Events coordinator, posted, and then revoked. And (as should happen) a discussion happened.

One of the things that bothered me most was the shallowness of the debate, myself included. Where we discussion censorship? The proper role of private life in organizations? No. It came down to tried and true conservative knee-jerk reactions where on hand, especially ‘it’s dirty’, and ‘what about the children’. The second is especially interesting because we don’t allow children in the space and the argument was for future children events, that we have no plans of. So it’s not just rhetorical concern, but functionally nonexistent one as well. Also a ‘We just want to make stuff, not debate things, so cancel the event.’ justification came across the list. Anyone in the “lets just make stuff’ camp had no stake in the event happening, or begin stopped. It in no way stopped anyone else’s ability to make things, or follow their passion. Unfortunately when I tried to debate just how logical those arguments weren’t, I was told ‘don’t Troll’. So, I dropped it.

Part of my goal in founding a hackerspace (rather than just a workshop) was a hope to foster the ‘do what you will, just don’t hurt folks’ attitude. An attitude is a primary ethics of the hacker community. I have worked hard to enable people to follow their creative passions. It’s sorely disappointing to see those same people turn away someone else. Especially when they are turned away not based on safety, or legality, but instead on the basis personal tastefulness.

Lucky this has an ironic and semi-happy ending. Happy for the event at least. The Hacktory is going to pick up and run the event. Part of the Irony is that as a space with a lot more exposure to kids, and as part of a larger nonprofit, more credit to lose. Part of the irony is that I helped found The Hacktory in ’07, and had to leave over a misunderstanding*. Yet another slice of irony is served since they asked their partner organizations, including one that does youth events, and got full support.

So, I guess one could say the hacker community sees censorship as damage, and routes around it..Go hacker community go! Now only if Egypt’s internet was so resilient.

*which has since been dealt with, patched over, and fixed up nicely.

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Nonprofits and Motives

I’ve thought a lot about community, profits, and making a difference while making a living. This is a hot topic now, and I think it’s great to see America shifting it’s conscience (albeit profit-minded conscience) recently. Green-washing and Community-faking at least means that my fellow americans are realizing the importance of verdant and social behavior, even if they are suckers for ‘now with Social!’ stickers to slap on products.

In my talks about hackishness, and my work on projects I’ve always had a hard time baking up my reasoning for removing money as a factor. Whether it was giving cash discounts to officers at Hive76, or giving gardeners cheaper food at Ant Hill, I’ve felt an inherent frustration with money as a incentive for creativity and community. I don’t feel that way about money as a general incentive, so it’s also been something I’ve not been able to defend or explain well.

It was with great relief and interested that I grabbed Drive by Daniel Pink. I’m still just starting on it, but it seems to be a great set of background on exactly the gut feeling I have about using money as an incentive. The one sentence overview is that Money is only an incentive up to a point, and for some kinds of tasks. For creative and deep though tasks, a bigger drive is accomplishment self-direction, and sense of purpose.

I think that is enough of a cool new idea for right now. I think there is a strong tie to profit vs non-profit enterprises, but I need to think on that idea and flesh it out a bit before I post it.

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Allentown is gearing up for next generation industry

Allentown BridgeI just got back from a great day and a great panel discussion at Bridgeworks in Allentown, PA. Bridgeworks is an incubator in Allentown that is a part of the Allentown Economic Development Corp. As manufacturing has shifted away from the us, AEDC is responding by working to create the next generation of fabrication and manufacturing industry.

As part of that, they invited a great crew to stop in, have lunch, and have a panel discussion on hackerspaces, innovation and the next generation of industry. The panel today was myself, Matthew Sommerfield, Richard C. Warner, and Paul Pierpoint, all from the Allentown area. Together the combination made a great mix of informal skills, education, group building, and knowledge of Lehigh Valley and it’s skills and challenges. For about two hours we bantered around ideas, fielded questions, and tried to think on our feet.

The audience had some great questions, and the panel has some great ideas, and some great answers. One thing I heard several times, and that has come up in other contexts, is that a hackerpace is part of a ecosystem. Having universities, Fab Labs, and innovative companies are all necessary. But they need to interact, and be able to draw from and give to the community as a whole. Hacker and makerspaces are one of the ways (the best way in my opinion) to create a common ground, where everyone can mix on their own terms.

It was an inspiring panel to be on. AEDC has some great ideas, and it’s clear Matthew Turk and R. Scott Unger clearly have a great vision. Not just of regional innovation culture, but also of the concrete steps they can take to get there. I look forward to watching what grows in that region, and maybe even helping them out where my skills allow.

P.S. If you live in the area, let me know. I’d love to meet some local hackers, makers, and geeks next time I’m in that part of PA.

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Hackerspaces National

As part of my hobby working in the DIY community, I’ve met a lot of interesting people, and gotten involved (and sometimes over my head) into the national hackerspace scene. This week I’m spending a couple of days in Chicago meeting with folks from the Hackerspace/DIY-Space/Fabrication/Shared-Studio world. We are bouncing around ideas about what it will take to setup a national organization, and what that group would look like, and do. Hackerspaces in Europe have done well to get themselves setup as educational nonprofits, and they have a reasonable amount of grant and event support, and that might be a model to pursue here in the USA.

One of the things I feel strongly is that most hackerspace base resource (space, simple tools, phone,etc) should be covered my membership fees. I think this is a good and gasp market-driven way to get the right size and complexity of a space for the community they are in, and for the needs they meet.

Something I had not thought of, and I think is a good idea, is that this neblous national organization shouldn’t be just hackerspace focused. There are plenty of other shared workspace groups, from woodworking to Jewlery Makers and glass blowing shops, which have a similar basic system. While I think hackerspaces present a sub-domain of the problem that is more fun, all of these kind of nonprofit shared workspace groups need similar help, and can and should share ideas, experiences, and tips on how to run well.

I want to make sure whatever organization we setup or get involved in is providing enough value to their member spaces, to justify any membership cost or work. I think that will be the trick, in figuring out how to make an opt-in national support group useful for spaces, hacker and otherwise. I look forward to meeting over the next few days, and finding out exactly what the other people here want and expect, and how we can make the USA a more innovative place.

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The Cost of Community Classes

Part of running a hackerspace is doing classes, events and workshops. Classes generally involved a teacher (and TA) and slides or a presentation. Workshops and Events are different from classes, and aren’t covered here. It’s sometimes hard to set rates and costs for classes, and it’s a tricky thing to make classes easy and affordable, but to make enough to support the space, and give people giving the class satisfaction of doing something worth the scratch.

I’ve heard some advice from different spaces on how to plan classes and costs, and (for me) one of the toughest parts was coming up with a decent cost for classes. My personal guidelines for the ‘don’t-expect-to-make-money’ classes (take it or leave it) is below. I use this for my own classes and events, and find it useful. If you also do classes or events, feel free to give us feedback on how you price yours, either by leaving a comment on the post, or updating the page the Hive76 wiki with your guidelines.
Read the rest of this entry »

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